In October large owls can be heard hooting well into the night. Coyotes sing almost year round, their voices echoing up and down creeks and bottomland. The winter weather is unpredictable; sometimes mild, sometimes severe, sometimes in the same day or week. Snow one day can mean short-sleeve shirt weather the next.
There is a day, or perhaps two in late February, then again in early March; a day when one wakes to see the foggy air above the fields and throughout the forests hiding something. The ground is covered in dew and funnel spider’s webs dot the landscape. One can walk down a dirt road, and imagine long gone homes and ancestor’s ghosts still living the way they once did, transparent images barely visible in the fog; that is if you look and imagine hard enough.
In reality, from the culture of one age, some stone structures still stand. Sometimes on walks down dirt paths or in the creeks, poking through the dirt stone arrowheads tell the tale of another culture’s time here.
The inversion in the air, that which causes the fog, causes buds to swell on trees like the oak, hickory, cottonwood, juniper, desert willow, mesquite, and pecan. In a few weeks redbud trees reveal small flowers in hues of purple and red along with white from the hawthorns. Their beauty sprinkle the forest, hilltop and creek edges with color. Not long thereafter plum blossoms perfume the air with hints of the fruit to come.
Coralberry grows naturally in the shade of the forests and overhead Canadian geese fly north, some having spent the winter around local ponds, some right here on the ranch. Eventually butterflies begin to appear and birds begin to sing far more than they have during the winter, as those who have remained cheer the warmer sun, and the arrival of their friends from further south.
In April spring turkey season begins and hunter’s walk, stop, listen, then walk a little more. Creeping along game trails, or down two-track roads they have established toward predetermined locations for the hunt. When the sun rises young jakes fly from their roosts at a hen’s call, while the older wise ones silently creep up on the source of the call, blending in with the forest’s cover. The old Tom verifies the sound isn’t coming from a hunter, careful to slip away if he sees something he does not like.
In summer, on windless days and nights, insects sound like a radar scans, voices moving across the terrain, rising and falling in waves. A hawk sits perched atop a telephone pole or in a tree scanning the pastures for food. At night moths swarm around porch lights, crickets chirp, and around ponds frogs sing along as well.
Squirrels like to scamper about in the trees during the day and rabbits hop across the lawn in the early morning and at sunset. Usually a feeder is running by the cabin and deer, turkey, and the occasional raccoon make early morning and late evening arrivals. Sometimes a fawn arrives with the bunch, or young turkey. Sometimes feral hogs come through at night and destroy the feeder in search of food when resources dry up in the native habitat.
As wonderful as life on the ranch is, it can also be very difficult on all the animals. Cattle roam the place and the last several years have been difficult for them, difficult for the other animals as well due to drought. Fields that were once full of grass have been reduced to patches of grass in some areas, and filled with briars and weeds in others. Cactus and yucca have been dramatically increasing their population size over the last decade. Ponds that were full of fish a short year and a half ago nearly went completely dry last year. Some fish survived in a couple of ponds, others ponds got too low and without enough oxygen in the water, the fish didn’t make it. This year the ranch received a little more rain.
There was a time that even with cattle the ranch produced over 90 large round bails of hay. This year there was not enough grass to produce any. Keep in mind that it took several years for the impact to be seen, it didn’t just happen in a single year or overnight in terms of days.
It wasn’t so long ago that having a few weeks of hundred plus degree days was the norm. In the last few years, several months of hundred plus degree days is almost like a new norm. Environmental pressures aren’t just here on the ranch either. The breadbasket of the United States baked this year. Some say to expect higher food prices next year because of it.
This post or series of posts about life on the ranch that I intend to make over the next year or so I hope will be a good reflection of living here. Like this environment there will be positives and negatives, times when things go well and times when they don’t. Hopefully there will be a median balance, a way to look at life here as it changes for better or worse, and how things adapt to those changes as they occur.